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Tuesday, 31 July 2018


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Mike, you should take your own advice to heart. What happened to that perfect camera you wrote about so enthusiastically a month or so ago? You haven’t said a word about it since then. I assume it’s still in its box wondering when the heck do I get set free. Take a break from this blog for a few weeks. Start doing day trips documenting all the interesting spots in the Fingers Lakes. Then come back with a series of 12 B&W images that show what’s special about where you live. I’m sure many of your readers who’ve never been to this region would love to see it through your eyes. And remember, long walks with a camera at your side is good for the body and mind.

Digital Tsunami!!! I guess images are also posted because of social media blast! and people have the power to hold a smartphone.

I’m in Bangkok right now. For my first real holiday in 20 years. I'm feeling not so good. But you keep giving me hope. Kind regards, Gunther.

My email

I love that sucky paragraph of yours. When I give a presentation to my photo club, I frequently start by quoting it. I do not know if it decreases criticism but it's always worth a try ;-)

I'm pretty sure that for any given day there was a year in which fewer photographs were taken starting sometime around 1830. Also starting around then* for any given day there were more photographs made that day than all photographs made up to some year.

*1826** to be precise if you are counting photographs that have survived.

**Hey, who's making plans for photography's Bicentennial***?

*** although it can be argued that 2017 was the Tricentennial of photographic imaging.

I'm looking for surprise, not the Same Old Stuff. I'm not surprised by photos of your pet, your children, Half Dome, street-people—been there seen that ad nauseam.

I'll bet that most TOP readers shoot more random shots in an week than I have in my entire lifetime. I very seldom carry a stills camera, and I have never made a photo with a cellphone. YMMV.

My main interest is in motion picture stories. And I still have my Flip HD video camera (fits in my front pocket).

On the other hand, I think that the number of photographic prints has passed its peak a while ago but that's just a gut feeling.

I like clean geometrical patterns!
And yes - most of my pictures suck.
And, the older I grow, the more critical I am of my own pictures. Maybe that's what they call 'maturity.' (Or maybe I'm just becoming bitter and grumpy.) I remember I used to take hundreds of pictures per day while I was getting acquainted with my first serious digital camera. Now I can only look at two of the pictures I took at that time without feeling embarrassed.
This is not new, nor is it a consequence of digital photography. Garry Winogrand, who didn't live long enough to see the advent of digital photography, famously said "photographers mistake the emotion they feel while taking the picture as judgment that the photograph is good." I was living proof he was right. And probably still am.

I've been thinking about the issue you raise here a lot lately. Assuming you're not happy simply with pictures that satisfy yourself, where do you go as a photographer in a world where it seems pretty-much everything has been photographed. As I said in a previous post, the search for "newness" takes people down the road of new techniques (HDR, strange lighting) and back to old methods that seem novel now (wet plate). I see a lot of gimmicky work whose value seems simply to be its novelty.

In a way, it sucks to be a photographer today because there’s an expectation for novelty that I don’t see in writing. If that detective story you just finished is excellent, it’s not going to get rejected simply because your publisher has already published a detective story. In photography it sometimes seems like there’s a master subject list, and if someone else checked one of the entries off, you’re out of luck.

One way out of this is to think like a fiction writer. Given the millions and billions of words that have been written already on every subject imaginable, you’d think there would be no point to writing another detective story. Yet people do it all the time, and they attract audiences and sell books. With all these existing stories, is the only way a fiction writer can be successful to use fancy fonts – lots of them, all at the same time in the same document? Does it require inventing new kinds of punctuation, new rules of grammar? Scratch and sniff? Clearly not. Apparently it requires good writing, compelling stories, and interesting characters. Plus, luck, connections, exposure, etc. (but that’s true for lots of careers).

And now a not terribly original conclusion: Build on what the camera uniquely can do (create images that correspond with reality). Then have something to say in your pictures. Use the grammar and vocabulary available to photographers to say it. Connect with the emotions and feelings of your intended audience. Per Jay Maisel, expose yourself to lots of different things so you have new ideas for your photography.

As a side effect, if you buy this argument, the amount of money you spend on camera gear will shrink to nearly nothing because almost any camera you already have now will do the trick!

Insofar as most - the vast majority - of everyone's pictures suck, I wonder if what distinguishes a good photographer from a bad one isn't more a matter of being able to spot the jewels amidst all the trash on the hard drive, rather than some innate ability to just go out and take great shots. If you take enough photos, you're likely to hit on a really good one nice in a while, but you have to be able to recognize them later.

I just love it that you can say most of my pictures suck! Pretty good guess - in fact right on the mark! Also right on is the fact we all hit the jackpot once in a while with a “keeper of keepers” that makes one happy and proud.

For me, that most recent day was created by weather and time - a storm clearing just as the sun was setting, bring about colors in the sky and the right mood over the landscape for a superb multiple image view of a marsh backdropped by a bay. Oh, and being there was important too :-) A bench became my tripod. So many factors joined forces here.

Mike wrote, " … the corollary to "most of everybody's pictures suck": every now and then you get one you really love. One that, for you, stands out even from the good ones."

If I want to make more pictures that I really love, I need to take more pictures. Simple.

Well, my view is, if one person (me) is happy with the shot, then I’ve done alright.....

Most of my pictures suck. But, as you noted, Mike, every now and again I get a really nice keeper. People like me are graduates of The Blind Squirrel School of Photography. It's based on the well-known fact that even a blind squirrel can find an acorn, every now and again.

With best regards,


My current desktop photo (on my MacBook) is one I took of the Great Wall of China zig-zagging away from me across the mountain tops near Beijing. Just before reading this article, I remarked to my wife that "I can't believe that I stood on that wall and took this photograph", not because it is especially excellent, but because sometimes our trip to China a year ago takes on a bit of dream-like quality, rather than a clear memory, and this image brings it all back.

I couldn't honestly say why I am compelled to make photographs, but this is surely one of the benefits of that compulsion. Of course, there are also drawbacks, like sifting through 50 photographs I made of the conjunction of Mars and the blood moon that all suck.

Isn't lack of discrimination the issue? Everyone just dumps their digital equivalent of contact sheets into the inter-tubes of their choice without discrimination.

"Is that alone a good enough reason to keep photographing?"
That alone is the only real reason to (keep) photograph(ing)!

Unless it's ones profession...

No one ever talks about the fact that, regardless of how many photos are taken in a day, the number of photos we can look at each day remains roughly the same. So is it really worth getting worked up about whether 60,000 photos are taken every day or six billion? Any given person can still only see the tiniest fraction of that number in either case.

I wonder how many photographs are saved to be referred to more than a day after they were taken.

And no matter how many accumulate on computers or hard drives or phones, I wonder how many are actually looked at more than a year after they were taken?

While many more photographs are taken than ever before, they are treated by many people as disposable. I bet the effective attrition rate is spectacular, and the number that survive meaningfully, in the sense that they will ever get looked at, may not be as vastly increased as we might imagine. Just a thought.

You've been writing a bunch of stuff lately I'm wanting to comment on. This one is to help me think about something. It's an alternative view to your post.

The photo work(non-pro, that stuff is straightforward) I've been doing since about 2005/6 is kind of an extended meditation on the formal qualities of images. Instead of striving to find the one thing that is "right", I'm trying to question what right is and how it is we get to that.

Therefore the images are very non-hierarchical and don't lend themselves to right/wrong dynamics, on purpose. And yet through that, there's still some ineffable qualities that come through certain combinations that make them "stronger(?)" than others. In some cases it's obvious what that is, in others it's very mysterious. Hint: think field painting, especially but not limited to Pollock, and other aleatory forms, which extends it into music, obviously.

Before you can "take heart" you must know where your heart lies. Why do you take pictures at all? Fame and fortune? Social media acclaim? Mementos? Self-expression (a.k.a. "art")? Does it really matter how many images are taken and posted on the Internet every hour? Do you really consider yourself competing with them for attention? Who's your audience? Where is your heart in photography? What makes it happy?

As an aside, several of my acquaintances who have the deepest knowledge and love of photography never themselves take pictures. Their hearts lie in seeing and knowing images, not the photographic process.

For those who might bemoan their own hit-or-missedness with a camera I close with a rather timeless book, via Google books and the University of Michigan, that many will enjoy: Why My Pictures are Bad, by Charles Maus Taylor

Maybe you should now re-post or link to Monday's "If You Are Depressed" post.

A short time ago an acquaintance of mine told me he needed an high memory smartphone because he had around 20.000 photos in it.
20.000 ? Yes :-)

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